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Are You Ignoring Succession Planning?

RETS Associates finds that only 22% of CRE leaders perceive succession planning as valuable. speaks with Kent Elliott about why this is dangerous and what you can do about it.

NEWPORT BEACH, CA—CRE recruiting firm RETS Associates reports that only 22% of CRE leaders perceive succession planning as valuable. According to the firm, over the next five years, the C-level executives will be retiring, and there has yet to be sufficient planning to know who will fill their positions. We spoke with principal Kent Elliott about why this is dangerous and what you can do about it. Why don’t CRE leaders perceive succession planning as valuable?

Elliott: Succession planning is so incredibly important to any firm. It’s scary that leaders really don’t put it at the top of the list. What are some of the reasons? 1. It’s easier to ignore than it is to address. 2. They think, “Look, this isn’t needed. I don’t need to do this. I’m 47 years old, in great health and am going to live forever, so I don’t need succession planning now.” The reality is nobody is invincible. It’s not a topic people are running to address because it’s much easier to ignore, but at the end of the day, everybody is replaceable, without a doubt. 3. They think, “I’ve got 40 other priorities on my desk, and I’m not planning on retiring soon, so I don’t feel like dealing with this big, meaty topic.” How should leaders who don’t have a formal succession-planning program begin to approach this issue?

Elliott: It’s almost visionary. You’ve got to point to the mountain and say, “I’m going to climb that mountain.” Accept that we’re all replaceable, and we’re not invincible. I rode my bike into the office today and could have been smacked by a bus and gone. Point to the top of the mountain and address this issue; have something in place. Whether you’re a small or large company, have a plan in place and have identified the leadership/individuals that could take over different roles.

Also, point to the horizon and have something in place by a set date—something realistic. These are not topics to be taken lightly. Have conversations with team members—it doesn’t have to be, “I’ve identified you as a candidate for succession planning,” but more like, “Tell me about your long-term goals and how you want that to evolve.” Have that conversation with specific people. Communication is important—even in the recruitment process. When companies hire us to find candidates, we need to communicate the vision of the company to the person they want to hire. Part of that is finding that succession plan with your senior-management team.

Some clients on an annual basis need to identify who at that point in time they think could be part of the succession plan in case the current leader gets hit by a bus. Sometimes those people who are identified by a market leader that “This is my succession plan” aren’t right for the job. Don’t under- or overestimate an employee or under identify people on your team who can handle the role. How can succession planning help companies succeed in a competitive environment?

Elliott: First and foremost, having a plan increases the chances of the long-term success of an enterprise. Having people identified to take over key positions down the road provides those individuals identified with potential future growth opportunities for their career and reduces the turnover of those key individuals, who now that they know they’re part of succession planning. They can see their future and see that the CEO has identified them as the next potential CEO of this company. They can see that there will be an orderly transition and over the next five years, that CEO will transition out and will transfer some of these duties he’s handling over to me. It gets people rejuvenated, like the feathers on the back of the peacock. It’s career rejuvenation, and the chances of retention are good. Of course, it depends on the individual and the role.

Having been identified for succession planning may keep people from going on an interview out of concern about it getting out in the market. If you’re identifying a successor, identify where they have holes and work with them to further develop those areas. It’s about long-term thinking. What else should our readers know about this topic?

Elliott: The aha moment that many individuals CRE leaders have is that aha moment on the exit interview. When you look at the single biggest failure in our personal lives or in business, it’s all about communication. We can all improve those personally and professionally, and communication and succession planning need to go hand in hand. If you value what your employees bring to the table and you see that individual as becoming a bigger, better part of the organization, that needs to be communicated correctly. It can result in the longevity of the organization and reduced turnover of employees. It’s the key to keeping employees happier because they know they’re part of the bigger picture of the enterprise.